French vegetable soup
This is the simplest of French vegetable soups, and the one most frequently encountered. Carrot, potato and leek are blended into a thick purée that is both healthy and satisfying. There are many variants on the basic recipe, some of which are included below.
The basic soup
1 large carrot
1 medium potato
1-1/2 quarts (liters) water
1 tsp. sea salt or regular salt
generous pinch of tarragon
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. crème fraîche or heavy cream
Peel the carrot and the potato and chop them into large chunks. Slice the bottom off the leek, remove the outer layer of skin, rinse and chop in half where the white begins to turn green. Chop the white part into chunks. Separate the leaves of the green part and rinse carefully, as leeks tend to come with a good amount of sand inside. Then slice the green parts crosswise, discarding the tough ends.
Pour the water into a soup pot. Add the salt and the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the soup will cook at a low boil. Add the tarragon and grind in some fresh pepper. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Remove the pot from the heat. Purée the soup using an immersion blender or counter-top blender. If using an immersion blender, blend the soup in its cylindrical container and not by plunging the blender into the soup pot. The aim is to create a smooth and thoroughly blended soup. If the soup seems too thick, add a little more water. If it seems too thin, boil it down a bit before continuing with the recipe.
Return the soup to a clean pot, stir in the cream, taste for seasoning and reheat gently. Serves 3-4.
Now come the variants. Here’s my favorite (Variant 1) and a few more:
Variant 1 (mildly spicy)
The basic soup, plus:
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. crème fraîche or sour cream
fresh herbs: dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley, basil, mint
Before reheating, stir in the cumin and squeeze the lemon through a sieve held over the pot. Stir again. Using a scissors, snip one or two types of fresh herbs onto a plate. Serve the soup in individual bowls with a small dollop of cream and a sprinkling of herbs on top.
Variant 2 (gratinée)
The basic soup or Variant 1 plus:
Toasted rounds of baguette
6-8 tbsp. grated comté, gruyere or a similar cheese
Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (425 F, 220 C). Pour the hot soup into individual oven-proof bowls. For each bowl of soup, place one or two rounds of toast on top and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. grated cheese. Place the bowls in a large baking pan for easy handling. Put the pan in the oven and bake 5 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown. Serve at once.
Variant 3 (vegan)
Omit the cream from the basic soup recipe and instead add 1 tbsp. extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil. Cut some fresh herbs right into the soup.
Variant 4 (fiery)
For added spiciness, crumble in a dried red (cayenne) pepper to any of the above variants.
Or use your imagination to create your own variants with different spices, different herbs, even different vegetables. Serve the soup as a starter or as a light meal, accompanied by a salad, perhaps some cheese and a red wine with some body.